Boulder’s Best Booze: A Night of Mixology

The event's official signcard.

I’m drunk.  Ok, we got that out of the way.

Tonight was Boulder’s Best Mixologist contest, which was held at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and sponsored by 303 Vodka and Downtown Boulder Inc. Much to my surprise there was a good vibe and plenty of people to make the evening really enjoyable.  Given the setting, I can’t help but compare the eight vodka cocktails to different movements of art.

I will start with the winner as voted by the crowd – the Salt “Sunfire”.  The Sunfire was made up of vodka, blood orange, lime juice, agave nectar and soda. Sound familiar? It should…it’s on their menu (although they did tweak it just a bit for the contest). To be honest, the Sunfire was like the Old Masters to me: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, etc… the drink was really good, but so is a Martini, Manhattan or Stella – it was just old. Overly familiar.  It lacked the uniqueness the others had and stuck to what works.  Don’t get me wrong, I nearly cried when I was in the Sistine Chapel, it was so beautiful, but it is the stand-by of classical art.

My personal favorite, and the contest’s third place winner, was Oak carbonated kumquat, lemon juice and simple syrup drink.  The cocktail gave off a

Oak's kumquat concoction...being lit on fire.

nice aroma from the burnt bitters across the top, it had depth from the tarragon and kumquat, and it was very refreshing with the carbonation.  It was like a Seurat where the pointillism draws you in, but then you realize the depth of color and how every detail is carefully planned.  A great drink that is perfect for spring… if only Oak had a patio.

Very smoky...and oak-y...and orange-y...

Second for me was the Monet of the evening – dark and very complex (think Impression, Sunrise) – the West End’s “Smoke and Oak”.  Much like Oak’s cocktail, this drink was multi-dimensional – as you pulled the cocktail up to your nose, there was the smoked orange, then came the currant juice and maple syrup on the front of your palate, and finishing the drink was what tasted like cinnamon, star anise and ginger.  No other drink had the depth of this one. It was a great cold day drink but unfortunately for “Smoke and Oak” today was a gorgeous, warm day – if it were 40 degrees colder outside, I am convinced it would have won.

In the middle of the pack for me were the drinks by Aji and Riffs – both utilized jalapeño and were very interesting and unique, but I wouldn’t order them out.  They were the Banksy of the evening – the pieces are off-beat and they make you question the norm, but I don’t expect to see Banksy in the Louvre anytime soon, nor are these cocktails going to hit it big.

Aji's secret ingredients: frog's wart and pig's toenails. Ahem. I mean...candied jalapeno and macerated strawberries.

Rounding out the bottom of the list were The Kitchen, Hapa and The Pinyon.  The Kitchen had an “Homage to Beer” – it lived up to its billing which was to emulate a cherry stout, but unfortunately it just tasted like a flat cherry stout and missed the mark.

The cherry stout. Or should I say cherry thin (or whatever the opposite of stout is).

Hapa’s “Bermuda Shipwreck” had a fantastic set up, the mixologist gave us a taste of the hand-pressed hazelnut and almond extract as well as the pomegranate reduction, both of which were delicious, then when the completed cocktail came around I wondered what happened to the ingredients.  It was surprisingly one note, and tasted like a generic beach drink from Waikiki.  (Though, to give Hapa their fair shake, the attendees voted them as the second best drink of the evening.)  The Pinyon’s drink couldn’t have been more disappointing.  There was a cinnamon,


rice milk, and kaffir lime leaf foam, which smelled like a fireball candy, but underneath was a ‘clarified screwdriver’ which tasted like watered down orange juice. Tasteless.  The first two were caricatures of drinks, you could tell what they were supposed to be, but they lacked substance; the final cocktail was like the people who paint themselves gold and stand still on the street corner: hurry along now, nothing to see here.

All-in-all, it was a great event and there was a surprisingly large turnout.  Other than being called “gringo mouth” because I thought the jalapeño drinks were too spicy, it was a great experience.  I hope most of the featured cocktails make the drink list soon.

One final question, where was Bitter Bar?  They are the Van Gogh of Boulder’s drink scene – they have amazing drinks that sell for $21 million a pop and cut off their ear after a drunken fight.


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